Every hour of every day, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is contributing to the defence, security and well-being of New Zealand. It’s their goal to maintain well-trained and equipped armed forces that can react to a crisis at short notice. Working in partnership with many other government agencies, NZDF help those in need and protect New Zealand’s territory and oceans.
NZDF are a diverse organisation, with operational activities from the transport and deployment of officers around the globe, all the way through to healthcare. Running an extensive fleet of aircraft, ships and land vehicles, as well as a large volume of assets that need to be kept track of 24/7, NZDF have the vision to become a truly ‘connected and empowered workforce’. Robert Raines, ERP Architect for NZDF explains “Our organisation is made up of a number of varied operations and departments, so delivering on our vision of a connected and empowered workforce won’t be a feat completed overnight. It will take the right technologies and the best partners to ensure we succeed in this”.
It’s clear NZDF view technology as an enabler to drive business change, not the other way around. That’s why NZDF’s vision asserts a cultural shift to becoming a technology-focused organisation.
NZDF identified the following prerequisites to becoming a connected and empowered workforce where they could be enabled by technology:
- Increase safety and ability to respond to events quickly – make it easier for employees to create and consume information.
- Facilitate better engagement and communication internally – keep a simple user interface and enable more efficient resource usage, improve employee satisfaction in the process.
- Allow more timely and accurate data capture and utilisation – enable a drop in manual and paper-based transactions, reducing process duplication and keyboard data entry.
These requirements pointed to a solution that could digitise their inventory management and mobilise the armoury stocktake process.
NZDF had traditionally followed a very manual, labour intensive process to stocktaking gear which involved physically counting every piece of equipment. In 1999 for example, it had taken 3 months to do a stocktake of weapons, largely due to human error. This approach continued up until very recently, with the number of serial items checked manually each month reaching 85,000. Getting an accurate count of equipment had become almost impossible, “the hours required to count equipment, coupled with the feeling that we couldn’t really trust the numbers, made this project a really important one for NZDF”, says Alan Rivers-Milliken, Logistics Information Manager.
Any mobility solution nominated needed to comply with the following specifications to be cost-effective and guarantee compatibility with NZDF’s existing procedures, including:
- Must use readily available commercial hardware – as military specific gear can cost up to 5 times as much and take 10 times as long to purchase.
- Hardware must interact with multiple vendor products – this will ensure it remains compatible as newer product versions are released and deployed.
- Must have expandable application development capability – after initial applications are installed, people always want other streams of applications, so capability to expand quickly to meet growing business requirements and user demands is a must.
- Must have mobile capability within logistic areas of operations – software must work offline so armoury systems can be used on aircraft and in remote areas of operation.
- Must support GS-1 Barcode Standards and UHF RFID Tag Standards – as GS-1 is used by most of their third parties and vendor’s systems, and UHF standards appear to be where the commercial world is heading.
Crucially, these requirements would allow NZDF to leverage their existing SAP investment, ensuring core SAP ERP remains the organisation’s sole source of the truth.
Zag (formerly Soltius) proposed a Neptune Software solution as the most effective and affordable solution to digitise NZDF’s inventory checks. Neptune Software UX Platform is an SAP-certified rapid app development platform that helps modernise and optimise SAP processes and user interfaces, with the full benefits of Fiori UX and ABAP. It reduces the time and cost to design, build, deploy and maintain SAPUI5 applications, on new and legacy SAP systems across desktop, mobile and offline environments. Therefore, Neptune Software takes full advantage of NZDF’s existing SAP set up and minimizes the need for integration.
An NZDF external portal based in the AWS cloud provides a channel supporting authentication mechanisms and data for mobile devices now used in the field connecting to the back end. Neptune Software is deployed on NZDF’s external portal and pushed out through an employee self-service portal, enabling a trusted secure connection between the self-services side and their back-end. Any solider given access can now deploy the software on any NZDF approved mobile device. As Neptune software was designed to support both online and offline capability, Soldiers can work in remote areas where Wi-Fi is not available or around aircraft where Wi-Fi is not permitted. Commercial RFID barcode scanners, used for scanning all barcoded inventory, are able to be linked in via Bluetooth.
So, what does an armoury stock-take look like now, for example? Today, an NZDF staff member can simply stand at the front of an armoury storage aisle, boat hatch or aircraft, armed with an RFID scanner, and the system will automatically pick up every weapon or piece of equipment in that area within scanner range that has an RFID tag. Staff completing stock-takes are no longer required to pull every piece of equipment out of racks and manually record or verify each serial item – the process has been largely automated thanks to the new solution powered by Neptune Software.
Previously, the process of stock-taking one armoury of 1000 units would take two people around half a day. “With the RFID scanner in the same armoury it takes about 40 seconds, which is the amount of time it takes them to walk down the racks” exclaims Rivers-Milliken. The world-class mobility solution has also resulted in fewer steps in the overall process of storing information – there is no need to go into SAP ERP for data capture, meaning equipment checks are further shortened.
To put it simply, the mobilisation of these processes has resulted in massive time and resource savings for NZDF. The paper trail has been done away with and valuable personnel can now be allocated to more pressing tasks. Along with a reduction of manual labour and human error, interfaces have become more user friendly, which has in turn stimulated employee engagement. “Our people love the new solution. They’ve been blown away with how easy it is to now get a count on equipment”, explains Rivers-Milliken. Data accuracy and quality have significantly improved with the move to real-time data capture, serving to reduce risks associated with incorrect data which is critical for organisations like NZDF.
Where NZDF are Today
Going forward, Robert Raines from NZDF explains, “This is going to revolutionise how our business does business”. NZDF are now in the process of issuing RFID tags to soldiers alongside their ID cards, which will enable their individual tag to be scanned together with the 16 personal pieces of armoury each soldier takes on deployment. Each piece of equipment will be tracked, including the time it was deployed and who is responsible for its return. This next step will further eliminate the time and paper resources required in a manual count-up and allocation of gear.
With help from the Zag team and Neptune Software, NZDF has been able to improve data quality with very little effort. The project hasn’t required any work to adjust the backend or any major new infrastructure plus the cost of the stock-take process hasn’t increased. The business benefit and return on investment has been almost instantaneous.
“We have been really happy with the solution and it has met all our expectations. With a combination of Neptune Software and the support of Neptune Gold Partner Zag, we are delivering on our digital strategy and have added value to a crucial business process” Robert Raines, ERP Architect for NZDF.
With a long and strong track record of success spanning over 20 years, Zag is a locally-based trusted advisor and ‘safe pair of hands’ to over 80 businesses in Australia and New Zealand. Zag are proud to be the exclusive New Zealand Partner for Neptune Software, and one of only six Neptune Software Gold Partners worldwide.
Having first partnered with Neptune in 2014, and with customers spanning numerous industries, Zag continues to turn user needs into innovative solutions for clients. While every success story is unique, the key elements don’t change: we consistently deliver business value and provide end users with a mobile experience that matches how and where they want to work.
Neptune Software provides the most cost-efficient way to make any SAP functionality seamlessly available in user-friendly interfaces on phone, tablet and desktop. This fast and intuitive solution for mobilising SAP is fully available offline and includes built-in security enhancements. As a certified SAP partner and the only ABAP® solution for SAP Fiori® UX, Neptune Software helps enterprises build a strong foundation for business by maximizing the use of existing SAP set-ups, increasing ROI while minimizing the need for integration and thus delivering a low total cost of ownership.